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Living in NYC

Stories for Friends. Advice for Strangers.

I have recently spent some time across the East River, more so than normal, and it has me thinking about Brooklyn. What a fantastic place, composed of many diverse neighborhoods and microcosms of society. There are few places in the world that compare to that borough.
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For the first 5 months of my adventure in New York City, I lived in Prospect Heights. It’s really one of those little neighborhoods the real estate industry made up. Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant (part of New York’s most dangerous precinct) meet Park Slope, one of Brooklyn’s most charming (and expensive) neighborhoods. That intersection has transformed over time, and as Park Slope became a yuppie-turned-parent safe haven, Prospect Heights became an inexpensive, hip neighborhood with its own name. Named in part after the gorgeous park on its southern border, the neighborhood has unfortunately become expensive like Park Slope.

My friends Alan and Dan lived on Dean Street just east of Bedford Avenue. When I came to New York on January 1, 2010, I took up residency on their floor. Eventually Dan moved out, and it was just me and Alan (No, not Alan and I).

Helping Alan move out of that tiny apartment is what makes me think of those cherished months living there. It was not safe. It still isn’t safe. But I think back to times when I felt more alive than I ever had before just walking home late at night. As we carried boxes down the stairs, Alan and I recounted moments of terror when we fell asleep on the train (independently) and woke up at Far Rockaway (near JFK airport) at 4 a.m. Move to New York – it will happen to you. There were days when I would go up to see my friends Scott and Lena in the Upper West Side at Columbia University – traveling home by subway on the late night or weekend schedule meant 2 hours underground. There were timid trips from our stop on the A-C (Nostrand) to our place that felt like an eternity. I’ll never forget one night I passed a couple of guys around 2am. They just watched me and talked to each other in hushed tones. Later that week, I read a crime report in our district that detailed a rash of serial muggings. Those men matched the description perfectly, and the perpetrators acted in the range of 1 to 4 a.m.

Even if I didn’t always feel safe out there, I always felt alive. I firmly believe that we afford ourselves way too much comfort – Brooklyn helped me step out of my comfort zone in many respects. And for that I will always be grateful.

If you aren’t interested in stretching yourself in that way, there are still plenty of places to consider. Brooklyn Heights and Park Slope are great if you can afford them. You will spend just as much there as you will in many neighborhoods in Manhattan. On a budget, you can check out Bay Ridge. It’s a jaunt, for sure, but apparently a vibrant, safe area. Finding a place in New York is all about compromise. What do you want? What can you afford? Make a list, and figure out where you can get those things on your list in your budget. You won’t win them all, but there is something for everyone in a borough this big.

For the true budgeteer, you should probably start out in Queens (I recommend Astoria or Long Island City). But I’ll save that for another post. Or I’ll just ignore it entirely.

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Friends, family and devoted readers:

Because I know you’re the only ones who will read this, I’d like to extend a heartfelt, albeit late, note of gratitude to each of you. For humoring me as my thoughts and experiences wandered their way through this blog for more than a year. It’s now been more than a year since I last posted here, and while I can’t guarantee it will be the last, I must close a chapter here that actually concluded many months ago.

Amber and I left many friends and our beloved church in New York in May of 2011. There were so many reasons to stay there, but we both recognized a clear call to forego them. It has been incredible to see God moving in our lives and blessing us just as he did in the city. We’ll never forget our time there. We’ll never regret moving there. I sincerely hope we’ll never regret leaving.

We don’t know what to expect next, and I haven’t found any inspiration to continue blogging since we left Manhattan. An unexpected meeting with some other writers in Gainesville reminded me just how much I love to write, so I will be exploring some options and plan to launch any new adventure in writing from here. I do hope to create a “Leaving NYC” digest, if for nothing else than to remind myself that leaving a place can be just as challenging as going somewhere new, and there are lessons to be learned in doing so!

Until next time,
Chris

I logged back in to Facebook yesterday (did you know that you can go back after deactivating it?). Imagine the server space they must need to keep all that data. It’s sort of terrifying. Anyway, I’m going to start giving them little pieces of my life again and allowing them to do what they want with it, forever.

Why did I do this? I’m writing here just so that I can remember, because I refuse to journal about social networking, but it’s a valuable thing to remember. After a spell off the radar (although readily accessible via twitter), I have realized that there are things happening on Facebook that I don’t want to miss. My family is very active there, and it is the primary way many of them have chosen to communicate. So rather than hold out because I think Facebook is scary (which I know it is), or stay off of the site because I think it brings out the worst in me (which I know it does), I will engage and learn to live part of my life there, so long as the people I love are doing the same.

I also don’t want to be out of touch, and I miss seeing pictures of my nieces. This has nothing to do with New York, but I only keep up with one blog. Sorry!

Amber and I entered into the Wicked lottery twice last weekend. The first time, Amber flew solo and took a stab at it on a Friday evening. If she won, I was to head over there immediately following work. She didn’t, though, so we both went together on Saturday.

A ticket lottery for a Broadway show is quite simple, and almost always the same no matter what show you’re trying to see. You need to arrive somewhere between 2 and 3 hours before show time, depending on the specific procedures of the show in question. A quick google search should clear such questions up, or just visit the link below.

When you get there, find the person with little sheets of paper and pens. It’s generally a guy wearing sun glasses, no matter the condition of the sun at the time. Anyone can sign up, and you can buy two tickets if you win (as long as you indicate that you want two on the paper). In our case, Amber won, so we got to purchase two front-row tickets for $26 a piece.

In all, we spent a couple of hours on a chance that we might get to see something we otherwise could not afford. Apparently that’s the purpose behind the cheap tickets (student rush, standing room only and lottery), and you can read more about it here. Playbill.com also has great deals on tickets if you sign up.

After spending a weekend playing the broadway ticket lottery, I can say with confidence that it is worth the time. A few things to look out for: you must have a photo ID with you (not that you should ever be out in the city without one), most of the time the lottery is cash only, and people will be jealous of you.

At grand central on the 6. An automated voice tells me the next stop, and comuters fling themselves through closing doors in a desperate bid to make it home. For some, this is home.

I’m headed in to the office for the first time in 2 weeks. It was a great break, but I am ready to go back. There is a lot going on at cornerstone, so I expect this to be a busy week. Hopefully I will snap back into a rhythm pretty quickly. We are adding lots of new business, and I’m taking the lead on my first account starting today – really looking forward to it.

Happy new year.

Post-Christmas snowdom, from my perspective. Non-cell photography courtesy my beautiful wife, Amber.

~

When you stick around for the holidays, you have to be proactive to keep morale up. Our solution was to implement a staycation of epic proportions. Amber and I drafted a list and did our best to stick to it. We could not have imagined what was in store for us last week.

You may be familiar with the blizzard that dropped more than two feet of snow on our city. It was allegedly the sixth-largest snowfall on record for the area. This coincided with our staycation – and we were not about to let a storm get in the way of our plans. After all, we had the list printed and up on the door.

The snow began during church on Sunday. Our services are held in the landmark Bohemian National Hall, on the third floor. As our small service concluded, we were all stirring with anticipation for the first real snow of the season. I volunteer for setup at our church, and a cautionary email sent out the night before indicated a blizzard and that we should “plan accordingly.” I had heard some TV personalities talking about it as well, but I generally don’t trust them. They were all right this time.

Later that day when the snow had not relented, we decided to head out for lunch. Amber and I have both had a “hankerin” for Outback lately, so we ventured down 12 blocks to eat a big lunch. They were closed until 1pm, so we had to deal with the storm for a moment. That’s when Amber took a brilliant picture of a snowball in midair.

 

Snowball

Snowball

 

 

We headed home, riding the 3rd avenue bus, and geared up for a night out in the snow. We wanted to see a movie, but none of the theaters near us were showing anything worth seeing (and we’re suckers for memory foam seats), so we went to Times Square. The snow was really starting to pick up by then, but the accumulation was marginal. We assumed everything was cool.

Amber Before the Storm

Amber Before the Storm

After a quick early-blizzard shop at the Loft, we took the cross-town bus over to 7th and 42nd. By this time, things had really started to pick up. Our movie didn’t start for a while, so we ran around taking pictures (and videos on my phone that wordpress won’t let me upload). We waited to see Burlesque – a legitimately good movie – as we watched the futile attempts of sidewalk shovelers to keep their domain free of ice and snow from our warm, second floor vantage point. When we got out of the theater a couple of hours later, things had taken a serious turn. A few failed attempts to convince a cab driver to take us uptown

 

Please give us a ride uptown...please!

Please give us a ride uptown...please!

 

led to a freezing walk across town to hit up public transportation. The streets and sidewalks were completely covered in at least a foot of snow, and it was clear that we were the only people interested in or compelled to walk through it.

Lonely East 42nd

Lonely East 42nd


Later, we ducked in to a bus stop with a shelter to wait for the 1st avenue select bus. For a moment things were still, but the bus was not getting any closer to us. My beard was also frozen.

Shelter on 1st

Shelter on 1st

 

Icy Beard

Icy Beard

The bus never came, so we walked up 1st avenue, catching a cab halfway to our block that got us ten or so closer, weaving in and out of stranded buses and sliding cabs. Eventually, we had to get out and walk the rest because the roads were impassable. I have no idea what the cab driver did, but I would imagine most of the ones like him ended up getting stuck. None of them had snow chains on, but the buses that did still got stuck.

When we arrived at our block, freezing but happy, this is what it looked like (yes, that’s a car):

 

Our Neighbor's Car

Our Neighbor's Car

We got up to our apartment to be swiftly reminded by the draft in our place that we had left a window open because it had gotten hot the day before. The thaw took a little longer than it might have otherwise, but we ended up ok. The blizzard ended that night, and we went out the next day to see the pristine snow in the park before the harsh, filthy reality that is a day in the life of a city street painted the white miracles a harsh black. The city completely transforms under a layer of snow, and in some spots it is still buried like it was that day.

 

Me in central park

Me in central park

 

Our stroll through the park took us to the American Museum of Natural History, a first-time visit for both of us. I think we’ll need to go back when we have more time, and probably take a guide with us who knows how to navigate the apparently unending network of hallways and galleries. Amber took pictures of the animals:

 

Bears

Bears

 

 

We also took a trip to the first observatory at the Empire State Building. Walking through what can amount to a 3-hour line on busy days at our own pace was pretty great. The view from the top is incredible:

 

Chrysler Building from ESB

Chrysler Building from ESB

 

 

You will always find the best views immediately following a snow storm – the air will never be clearer up here.

After freezing at the windy 86th floor observatory for a while, we went down, ate at Wendy’s and got a cab driver to take us home. Amber had to go back to work the next day, so the staycation officially ended that night.